Lisa K. Friedman is an author and essayist. Her work appears in the New York Times and the Huffington Post. Her novels, Cruise to Retribution and Nothing to Lose, are available at Amazon. Lisa lives in Washington DC with her husband and their new, almost-house-trained puppy, Tiller.
I used to meander to my writing desk, long and narrow with a perimeter fence around three sides, used for a variety of tasks including letter writing, bill paying, record keeping and oh, yes, writing. I had two regular writing gigs during my first pregnancy and had never missed a deadline: I had no intention of letting an infant change that. Just in case the other women in my prenatal exercise class were telling the truth (that the baby would upturn my life entirely), I drafted three assignments in advance. I was organized, prepared, ready.
Six months later, I had yet to review and submit my work. I had lost myself entirely. My desk was reassigned as a changing table. A glider had replaced my lumbar-supporting Aeron Chair. The stroller was parked in front of the bookshelf, barring my favorite inspirations from view: Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. I missed writing. I missed thinking like a writer, musing, wondering, conjuring. One night, late at night, I was sitting in the front window nursing the baby when I saw a light from an apartment across the street. I was feeling terrible about myself – I was unfocused, unproductive, without creative energy – when I realized there was a person in the far window. He was hunched forward, learning toward the light. I couldn’t see his hands or what held his attention. Was he reading? Maybe he was studying for his real estate license, or for the Bar or the medical school admissions test. I realized at once what held me to him: determination. He had the posture of pure determination. I knew exactly what I had to do.
I started keeping a calendar. I marked backwards from deadline dates, noting the hours I had available for research, thinking, meetings, writing, revising. It sounds a little manic now, but at the time I needed the structure of the calendar to keep me focused. I even had an hour allotted for naps! My writing space was cleared and forever sacrosanct, used only for my own writing projects. I had a scant few hours a day when the baby slept with any regularity. I was determined to use them well.
My first novel came out six months late and coincided with my second baby who came out six weeks early. I did my first television interview in an ill-fitting maternity dress, praying throughout that the sitter remembered my two year old was allergic to peanuts. With babies, you are forever torn between work and worry.
When the boys were toddlers I hired college students to baby-sit for four-hour blocks of time, figuring they were less likely to be criminals or child abductors (fiction writers will understand this sort of melodramatic over-thinking). The boys knew what a closed door meant: I was not to be disturbed. Once, my son, who wore a superman costume every day for the better part of a year, asked a particularly dense sitter if she’d like to see him fly and she, trying to be agreeable, said “sure.” We spent the rest of that day in the emergency room. There were plenty of accidents and disruptions. But I remained determined.
When I’m writing fiction, I sometimes bring my characters with me into the real world. I may introduce my real kids to my imagined ones, telling them (the real ones) whom I spent the day with, asking them if they share my angst or concern regarding an errant character or perilous situation. I watch their faces as I explain where and when and what and how. I observe their immediate reactions. It helps me gauge how clearly I know a character, or how adequately I describe him or her. The children’s eyes glow when I engage them, when I tell them what I’ve been working on. They love to be included. And I feed off their energies. They are so enthusiastic, and so relentlessly honest.
I was invited to speak at career day at my son’s school. When he introduced me, he said, “She writes on her computer all day. She knows a lot of words.”
My kids are grown now and come home only at intervals. When they are home, I often open my writing room door to find a note from one of them, letting me know of their plans, their schedules, their needs. To this day, they hesitate to disturb me during my writing time. Even now, when they are busy managing their own lives, they call, after my writing time of course, and ask: “So, tell me. What are you working on?”